I think you’ll know what I mean by the “higher guff” – the kind of sonorous and empty talk which often issues from the mouths of heads of state and princes. I heard a classic example recently at a British media awards ceremony from the admirable Prince Felipe of Spain. He was being courteous and diplomatic, praising the links and similarities “between our two great countries”, once imperial powers and once sworn enemies. “We have so much in common,” he enthused; an ironic commentary came from my neighbour, a photographer with a wicked wit: “Yes,” said Michael, “we’re both in deep shit.” The prince can’t have heard this, because he went on: “Indeed, so many of your citizens decide to move to Spain.”
“Yep,” was the uncharitable response from Michael: “All the criminals.”
The rule is that the higher the language soars, unless you’re careful, the more it leaves itself open to attack from below. Shakespeare was the dramatist who knew this best, especially in the excruciating scene from Troilus and Cressida where Thersites provides a scabrous commentary on the seduction of Cressida by Diomedes. “Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery” is his conclusion: the pretensions of the Trojan war reduced to an itch and a scratch.